Teaching your puppy good manners

Puppies are naturally curious and love mischievous play with their littermates. With so much to learn in their first weeks and months it’s not surprising that they will need a little guidance.
Man carrying puppy
Man carrying puppy
Man carrying puppy

With the right amount of care and attention, and by following our dog training tips or attending puppy school, you can teach your puppy how to behave and grow up to become a model citizen!

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Before you bring your new puppy home, it's important to agree some house rules with every member of the family, especially children. House training a puppy takes teamwork, and it’s up to all of you to decide what the rules are. Once the rules are agreed, it’s crucial that you all stick to them, because it will be very confusing for your puppy if one person allows one thing and another refuses. Some things to consider are:

  • Do you want your puppy to get up on the sofa for a cuddle, or is this a big no-no? Training a puppy to understand the word “no” will help with this.
  • Where the puppy will sleep? Decide on a puppy bed or crate before bringing your puppy home - and stick to it. Smuggling pets into your bed because they cry only teaches them that making noise brings a reward!
  • Where is your puppy not allowed? Such as upstairs or the dining room, puppies shouldn't be allowed to climb stairs unsupervised in case they stumble. Stair gates are useful to restrict access to places that they shouldn’t go.
  • Which vocal cues will you use during training and in general family life together? Consistency is vital here so that your puppy doesn’t get confused.
  • Who will feed and exercise the puppy and when? During puppy training, teaching and grooming should be shared between all family members to build bonds. Draw up a rota and be consistent with each family member doing the same thing with the same rewards.

As well as deciding your personal house rules, you need to make everyone in the house aware of some basic puppy rules. To help your puppy settle in as part of the family, make sure everyone understands the following:

  • Puppy sleeping habits include sleeping A LOT , which helps with their growth. When puppies are in their crate or bed, don't disturb them.
  • Your puppy shouldn't be disturbed when eating. If anyone gets between a hungry puppy and food, it could result in a defensive nip!
  • Never tease your puppy, particularly with food or toys or they will become frustrated.
  • When house training a puppy, they should never be given scraps from the table, no matter how cute they look! Not only does this encourage begging, which will carry on into adulthood, but it could also upset their sensitive stomachs and otherwise balanced diet.
  • Use dog treats to reward good behaviour, such as sitting quietly whilst the family eats dinner, but read the packaging to make sure you’re not giving them too many.
  • Young children should not be alone with the puppy and shouldn't pick up the puppy without supervision and guidance.
  • Puppies will chew, so it’s the responsibility of all family members and visitors to leave things out of your puppy’s reach. Not only could precious items get destroyed but, if swallowed, they could also cause health problems for the puppy.
  • Read more about welcoming your new dog home here.
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  • Once your puppy knows their name it will make life easier for you both, particularly when you want them to come to you.
  • From the minute your first meet your new four-legged friend, say their name over and over again when they’re having a good time, for example when they’re eating or you’re stroking them.
  • Never use their name in anger – puppies must associate their names with good things or they might not respond to it when they’re called.
  • Make sure all family members are consistent and don’t all use any nicknames. If your puppy's name is Ben, use Ben and not Benjamin, Bennie or Benji. This will help your puppy create a strong association with their name, and avoid overwhelming them.

Your puppy needs to learn that it's wrong to bite people. All puppies 'mouth', especially during teething, but this needs to be discouraged as if it continues into adulthood it could cause some serious damage. You can get chew toys for puppies to distract them from chewing you (or your furniture) but if your dog continues to mouth too strongly you could take them to puppy school or try out the following steps at home:

Make a loud, high-pitched yelp – even if they don’t actually hurt you - and then turn away from your puppy. This is a much more effective way of getting through to them than a reprimand or playing more roughly.

Your pup must then be ignored, to show the game stops when the mouthing starts.

This reaction will be familiar to your puppy as that’s how their littermates would have responded when they got hurt by another puppy, so your little friend will quickly understand that mouthing won’t bring any rewards.

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Learning phases

It's important to introduce your puppy to as many new experiences with people and other dogs as possible while they are still young enough to take everything in their stride.

Their first big learning period begins at about three weeks, when their eyes and ears first open and they start to explore the big, wide world around them. At this point they will still be with mum and their playmates will be their brothers and sisters. Try to visit your new pup before you bring them home so they can get used to being with people other than their breeder.

The next big step is between about 7-12 weeks, which is when you’re advised to keep your puppy away from public places while their vaccinations take effect. As you can’t take your puppy outside, it’s important to find alternative ways to help your puppy stay socialised during this crucial development phase. But when they are between 12-20 weeks you can attend puppy socialisation classes, which can help with training and meeting other dogs too.

Group of puppies playing
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Your puppy’s social calendar (7-12 weeks)

  • If you can't take your puppy out into the world, bring the world to your puppy. Invite a range of friends into your home to help your puppy get used to different sexes, ages, heights, builds and races. Ask your visitors to wear different types of clothing and, to encourage friendly interaction, arm everyone with treats.
  • Invite your dog-owning friends to bring their well-behaved dogs to your home - but check first that they’re up to date with their vaccinations.
  • While your puppy’s vaccination's may stop them going into public places, they will still be welcome at puppy parties. These are a great way to introduce your new pet to pups of a similar age. Your vet surgery should know about reputable puppy parties in your area and they may even organise them themselves.
  • Just because you can’t take your puppy to parks or the shops, it doesn’t mean they have to stay at home – you can take your puppy in the car for short car journeys. Not only will this help them get used to car travel, but it will also give them the chance to see the world through the windows and get them used to the sound of loud motorbikes, sirens, and other outside noises.
  • Whenever your puppy encounters anything new, make sure you act confidently as if there's nothing to worry about. If you’re anxious, your puppy will pick up on your signals and think something’s wrong. An occasional ‘good dog’, a treat and a calm attitude is all you need.
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Taking your puppy outside

Once you’ve had your vet’s approval to venture outside, it’s time to broaden your puppy’s experiences. Think about everything and everyone they’re likely to encounter in later life and write a checklist. Remember, repeated exposure is essential so try everything more than once until they’re happy, relaxed and well behaved.

  • When you first start walking your puppy on the lead take them along pavements in quiet streets at first, slowly building up to busy traffic areas.
  • Take your puppy to a shopping centre, sit on a bench and watch the world go by. Passers-by are bound to come up and say hello to your puppy, which is an added bonus.
  • Take a trip on public transport and spend some time just sitting in a busy station getting used to the hustle and bustle.
  • Visit dog-friendly shops, pubs and cafes – see our dog directory for places that welcome you and your furry friend.
  • With many dog friendly beaches around the UK (check the local rules first) let your puppy experience the beach and the sea plus many other environments you can think of.
  • Again, remember to repeat the experiences whenever possible.

The information contained in this article is not a substitute for individual veterinary or behavioural advice and is for information purposes only. You should always consult a veterinary surgeon if you have any concerns about your pet’s health. He or she will be able to take a complete medical history and physically examine your pet, to then recommend appropriate individual advice or treatment options. For detailed behavioural advice tailored specifically for your pet, we recommend that you contact a qualified pet behaviourist. For further details of local canine and feline behaviourists practising in your area and how they offer help for with problem pets, please contact The Coape Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers at www.capbt.org, or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers at www.apdt.co.uk. Do bear in mind that while dog trainers can take you on as a client directly, pet behaviourists will always require a referral from your veterinary surgeon.

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If you’d like more information on training your puppy or have any other queries, contact our PETCARE EXPERT TEAM